Recently, I’ve tried to make any Friday posts I do here at Cerulean Sanctum a little less intense. But after several hours of websurfing last night (I’m under the weather and it beats lying in bed!), I just had to write what I leave for you today.
There used to be a TV gameshow called “To Tell the Truth.” The premise was that a person with an unusual history, job, or reputation would join two imposters pretending to be that person. After a series of questions from a panel of celebrities, the panel would be required to separate the truth teller from the liars. The imposters got money if they managed to fool the panel. What made the show interesting is that sometimes the least likely liars managed to fool all the panel—the janitor manages to convince everyone he’s the former king of Fiji, for instance, when the real former king is sitting right next to him.
The moment of truth, the nexus of tension on “To Tell the Truth” was when the host would finally ask, “Will the real __________ please stand up?”
Last night I followed a link that led to a website critical of several well-known radio and TV preachers. You can’t be a Christian and be on the Internet and not eventually come across a site like this, but in the past I had ignored them.
Not this time.
I decided to Google the names of a few of those preachers mentioned and see how many places branded them as false teachers, heretics, or outright servants of the Enemy. Unfortunately, I started with a preacher I tend to like, Jack Hayford.
I’ve listened to Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way, a Foursquare church out in California, many times. I find him to be a breath of fresh air since he is one of the few charismatics on the radio, and because I have found that a lot of what he says resonates in me. He is a thorough Bible expositor and often mines those little nuggets of wisdom that pass by so many people when they read the Scriptures. He’s not a “charismaniac,” by any means; rather he manages to keep the fire in the fireplace, something I admire in any charismatic preacher.
I lost track of the number of Web sites that called Hayford a false teacher. Most didn’t like the fact he was a charismatic, that he tended toward a pre-trib eschatology (I’d never heard him preach on this, so this was news to me), and that he supported unbiblical political involvement—mobilizing Christians to vote for moral leaders.
Now I’ve listened to messages by Hayford several dozen times. And in all those times, I think I’ve ever truly disagreed with him concerning his message on tithing. Personally, I don’t believe in a New Testament tithe like Hayford does, but rather I see that everything should be open to being given as the need arises. I suspect that my view would brand me a wanton backslider in many institutional churches and denominations, but that is the reasoning I’ve come to. I know that Hayford’s view is far more mainstream, frankly. I’ve not heard every message Hayford’s ever preached, so I cannot say that I know all of his theology, only that I’ve found him to be reasonable and within the bounds of what is usually acceptable in the Church.
But what defines a “false teacher?” And if we apply that criteria to all pastors and preachers out there, would 99.999% of them have to rise if someone asked, “Will the real false teacher please stand up?”
Pick an eschatological scenario, say a pre-trib, pre-millennial outlook. You’ve essentially just called every pastor who does not hold that view a false teacher. Personally, I don’t hold that end times view. Do I call every teacher who teaches what I don’t believe a heretic? Am I even uniquely qualified to make those determinations if hundreds of years of church history have been filled with better men than me wrestling with just those issues?
How many times has the pastor of your church ever said something that was even a fraction off? Is his ministry now disqualified? Is anyone not standing now?
Is John MacArthur a heretic because he’s a cessationist? Is Jack Hayford a false teacher because he’s nota cessationist? If you disagree with “The Bible Answer Man” Hank Hannegraf, are you doomed to forever wander the earth as an enemy of God? Preterist or Amillennialist? Sunday worship or Saturday worship? Who’s in and who’s out?
By now this post has gone on too long, so I’ll cut to the chase.
At what point do we extend grace to teachers and preachers on issues that divide Christians? My reading of the Bible shows that Paul usually only assailed those who were way out there on issues that most pastors or preachers today would affirm as deviant. Is there any wiggle room on some issues?
As much as I believe the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, I just as firmly believe that grace exists for us who teach and preach when we goof up. I know the standard is high, and here at Cerulean Sanctum I try not to ever go down routes that are far off the beaten path theologically. I try to stick with “The Main and the Plain.”
So what do you, those of you who enjoy coming to this blog, think about this issue? At what point does someone become a false teacher, and is there ever any grace for pastors and teachers who stray from the rock-solid truth?